By Austin Leonard
Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion is an annual music festival celebrating Bristol’s country music heritage stemming from the 1927 Bristol Sessions, the origin of country music. This year marked the festival’s 20th anniversary of bringing together a wide range of music lovers to enjoy genres from Americana to Bluegrass to Indie and Folk and everything in between.
The first festival, which took place in 2001, sparked a popular and award-winning music festival exploring Appalachian roots. The festival grounds span historic downtown Bristol TN/VA, in which are four main stages, 12 smaller stages located in the local restaurants, bars, and shops, and a dance tent. Each year tens of thousands of visitors walk the streets of downtown Bristol, enjoying music wafting from stage to stage and delicious food from the many vendors that line the streets.
The Digital Media Art & Design (DMAD) program began attending the festival in 2014 as a part of the media team that provides the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion (BRRR) with promotional and advertising material. Students receive media passes that allow them into spaces closer to the stage and sometimes on the stage to photograph bands and the crowds. This allows the students to gain valuable and real-world experience photographing for a large event. It also offers the chance for their photos to be used on BRRR social media channels and gain recognition. Often students get to work alongside industry professionals and gain tips and connections for entering the photography business.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the festival was unable to be held last year, for the first time since its beginning. While the pandemic is still ongoing, the festival was held this year, encouraging masking, vaccinations, or a negative Covid test within 72 hours before the start of the festival. Along with those precautions, only 13 stages were utilized this year, many of which were outside.
This year I attended as part of a much smaller group of DMAD students going to assist in taking photos for the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion’s marketing and social media use. It was fun to see all the people that came and how much energy there was, both on the stage and in the crowds. At every performance I attended there were several people dancing and smiling. The bands seemed to be in high energy, happy to be back and playing live music again. As I was moving from one band to the next there was plenty to do and see like walking past all the food trucks and smelling the delicious food, or stopping to look at the local artists and vendors tents to see what they had to offer. Overall, it was a great experience that holds many fond memories.